Definition

What is a knee meniscus tear?

A meniscus tear is a common knee injury. The meniscus is a rubbery, C-shaped disc that cushions your knee. Each knee has two menisci (plural of meniscus)—one at the outer edge of the knee and one at the inner edge. The menisci keep your knee steady by balancing your weight across the knee. A torn meniscus can prevent your knee from working right.

How common is a knee meniscus tear?

A knee meniscus tear is common.It can affect patients at any age. It can be managed by reducing your risk factors. According to Boston Children’s Hospital, more than 500,000 meniscal tears take place in the United States each year. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of a knee meniscus tear?

When a meniscus tear occurs, you may hear a popping sound around your knee joint. Afterward, you may experience:

  • Pain, especially when the area is touched
  • Swelling
  • Difficulty moving your knee or inability to move it in a full range of motion
  • The feeling of your knee locking or catching
  • The feeling that your knee is giving way or unable to support you

You may also experience a slipping or popping sensation, which is usually an indication that a piece of cartilage has become loose and is blocking the knee joint.

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

Contact your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms and they persist for more than a few days or occur after your knee has been injured. Call your doctor immediately if your knee locks and you’re unable to bend your knee after straightening it.

Causes

What causes a knee meniscus tear?

The meniscus can be torn during activities that cause direct contact or pressure from a forced twist or rotation. A sudden pivot or turn, deep squatting, or heavy lifting can lead to injury. Many athletes are at risk for a meniscus tear.

Sports that require sudden turns and stops may put you at higher risk for meniscus tears. Some of these sports include:

  • Football
  • Basketball
  • Soccer
  • Tennis

Risk factors

What increases my risk for a knee meniscus tear?

According to Boston Children’s Hospital, meniscus tears are growing increasingly common in children. This is because children are participating in organized sports at an earlier age. Additionally, when focusing on just one sport, a child is more likely to experience a meniscus tear. The same is true for adolescents who participate in competitive sports.

The meniscus weakens with age. Tears are more common in people over the age of 30. Movements like squatting or stepping can lead to injury in someone with weak menisci.

If you have osteoarthritis, you’re at higher risk of injuring your knee or tearing your meniscus. Osteoarthritis is a common joint disorder involving pain and stiffness in your joints caused by aging and wear and tear.

When an older person experiences a meniscus tear, it’s more likely to be related to degeneration. This is when the cartilage in the knee becomes weaker and thinner. As a result, it’s more prone to tear.

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is a knee meniscus tear diagnosed?

Physical exam

After you discuss your symptoms with your doctor, they’ll examine your knee and test your range of motion. They’ll look closely at the spot where the meniscus is along your joint.

Your doctor also may perform a McMurray test to look for a meniscal tear. This test involves bending your knee and then straightening and rotating it. You may hear a slight pop during this test. This can indicate a tear of the meniscus.

Imaging tests

Imaging tests may be ordered to confirm a tear of the meniscus. These include:

Knee X-ray

This test won’t show a meniscus tear. However, it can be helpful to determine if there are any other causes of your knee pain, like osteoarthritis.

MRI

An MRI uses a magnetic field to take multiple images of your knee. An MRI will be able to take pictures of cartilage and ligaments to determine if there’s a meniscus tear.

While MRIs can help your doctor make a diagnosis, they aren’t considered 100 percent reliable. According to a study from 2008 published in the Journal of Trauma Management & Outcomes, the MRI’s accuracy for diagnosing lateral meniscus tears is 77 percent.

Sometimes, meniscus tears may not show up on an MRI because they can closely resemble degenerative or age-related changes. Additionally, a doctor may make an incorrect diagnosis that a person has a torn meniscus. This is because some structures around the knee can closely resemble a meniscus tear.

However, using an MRI has helped reduce the need for arthroscopy in some people.

Ultrasound

An ultrasound uses sound waves to take images inside the body. This will determine if you have any loose cartilage that may be getting caught in your knee.

Arthroscopy

If your doctor is unable to determine the cause of your knee pain from these techniques, they may suggest arthroscopy to study your knee. If you require surgery, your doctor will also most likely use an arthroscope.

With arthroscopy, a small incision or cut is made near the knee. The arthroscope is a thin and flexible fiber-optic device that can be inserted through the incision. It has a small light and camera. Surgical instruments can be moved through the arthroscope or through additional incisions in your knee.

After an arthroscopy, either for surgery or examination, people can often go home the same day.

How is a knee meniscus tear treated?

How your doctor treats your meniscus tear depends on several things, such as the type of tear, where it is, and how serious it is. Your age and how active you are may also affect your treatment choices.

Treatment may include:

  • Rest, ice, wrapping the knee with an elastic bandage, and propping up the leg on pillows.
  • Physical therapy.
  • Surgery to repair the meniscus.
  • Surgery to remove part of the meniscus.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage a knee meniscus tear?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with a knee meniscus tear:

Initially, you should treat the knee injury with conservative techniques that include rest, ice, compression, and elevation, or the RICE method:

  • Rest your knee. Use crutches to avoid any weight bearing on the joint. Avoid any activities that worsen your knee pain.
  • Ice your knee every three to four hours for 30 minutes.
  • Compress or wrap the knee in an elastic bandage to reduce inflammation.
  • Elevate your knee to reduce swelling.

You can also take medication such as ibuprofen (Advil), aspirin (Bayer), or any other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to reduce pain and swelling around your knee.

You shouldn’t put your full weight on your injured knee if it’s painful.

You can prevent meniscus tears by regularly performing exercises that strengthen your leg muscles. This will help stabilize your knee joint to protect it from injury.

You can also use protective gear during sports or a brace to support your knee during activities that may increase your risk of injury.

Always use proper form when exercising or engaging in activities that may put pressure on your knee joint. It’s a good idea to:

  • Warm up and stretch before exercising
  • Use proper gear, such as athletic shoes designed specifically for your activity
  • Lace up your footwear properly
  • Learn the proper techniques for the activities you engage in

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Sources

Review Date: November 3, 2017 | Last Modified: November 3, 2017

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